What the Burmese peacock softshell turtle does with its head is spectacularly cool


Bec Crew


Bec Crew

Bec Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
By Bec Crew 24 May 2021
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The Burmese peacock softshell turtle is the best animal you’ll learn about this week.

The Burmese peacock softshell turtle is… a lot. With its elephant-trunk legs, elongated piggy snout, and strange googly eyes poking out of its tiny head, it’s got the exact same energy as the blobfish. 

Only it’s worse, because the blobfish doesn’t even really look like that. We’d look like a gloopy mess too if someone hoisted us out of our natural habitat and exposed us to gravitational pressures that we’re not built for. 

But the Burmese peacock softshell turtle has no excuse. It just looks like that. Which is fine, of course. Not everyone can be as glamorous as the crested wood partridge or as adorable as the spotted litter frog. My dude’s just trying to live.

Which brings us to what is truly remarkable about this strange creature – its ability to retract its head into what is effectively its neck, as filmed by wildlife photographer Joel Sartore:

Seriously, wtf. 

The Burmese peacock softshell turtle (Nilssonia formosa) is a freshwater species found in Southeast Asia and parts of India and China. 

It’s endangered due to being hunted for meat, and also due to habitat disruptions such as over-fishing and gold mining along its nesting riverbanks. 

It’s a member of the little-known genus of South Asian and Southeast Asian softshell turtles (Nilssonia), so-called because they have soft, flexible shells.The genus includes four other species: the Indian peacock softshell turtle, Leith’s softshell turtle, the black softshell turtle and the Indian softshell turtle, which looks like this:

(Image credit: Aditya “Dicky” Singh / Alamy Stock Photo)

Honestly, these turtles look like one of those video game merchants with comic proportions. 

Softshell turtles died out in Australia around 40,000 years ago, but we still have our own freshwater turtles complete with strange, piggy snouts that work like snorkels underwater. The pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta), for example, is found in rivers, streams and lagoons of the Northern Territory.

In addition to the incredible footage above, Joel Sartore has taken some stunning images of the Burmese peacock softshell turtle, which you can view here.